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Jyoti Venketraman on Collaborating and Evaluating in Diverse Communities (One Practitioner’s Lessons Learnt)

Hi everyone, I am Jyoti Venketraman, Director Special Initiatives at the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.  I was hesitant to initially blog as I don’t consider myself an expert. But my awesome colleague Liz Zadnik , aea365 Outreach Coordinator and a recent blog post by Shiela B Robinson, aea365’s Lead Curator made me realize I don’t have to be an expert to contribute and can share my individual lessons learnt! So in that spirit, a project that I am undertaking currently involves collaborating with diverse communities. Evaluation plays a major role as it helps us answer two important questions: Are we making a difference? Are we good stewards of the resources we are using?  Below are a few crumbs of knowledge I have learnt in my evaluation journey so far.

Lesson Learned: Communities and individuals value different things from a project or intervention.  I learnt this early in my career as an evaluation newbie.  I find that when evaluation tools factor in differing stakeholder perceptions on what constitutes a “success,” you get a more holistic picture of what the actual impact of a specific project is within that community. This may run counter to stated project objectives but with well-planned and thoughtful stakeholder involvement, you can ensure you capture differing perceptions of “success.”

Lesson Learned: History matters. Historical context, historical trauma, and the trajectory of development a community takes can all be critical variables. Some community members may be more aware of it than others.  I have learnt that as evaluators we have to be open and intentional in affirming and acknowledging this in our practice.

Lesson Learned: Be open to a variety of data collection methods.  One of the reasons I like story telling is because it accommodates diverse views, provides a richer context and gives a window into how communities view the “success or impact “of a specific project.

Rad Resource: Many of my resources come from this blog or from what I have collected in my journey so far. On cultural humility I like Cultural Humility: People, Principles & Practices by Vivian Chavez (2012)

Rad Resource: On context in evaluation I like Participatory research for sustainable livelihoods from International Institute for Sustainable Development

Rad Resource: On storytelling I like CDC’s resource on Telling Your Program’s story, The California Endowment‘s resource on Storytelling Approaches to Program Evaluation and the Center for Digital Storytelling .

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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